The SD Europe network is filled with stories, connections, and the purest forms of passion. Though much progress has been made over the past decade, members have had to learn the correct manner to channel that passion.
In order to accomplish set goals and continue to campaign for the fans, our members have had to establish, develop, and prioritise a “structural relationship” with various football institutions.
In this SD Europe special in-depth series, we will delve into the multi-faceted relationships between football associations, leagues and fan organisations. We will then discuss the structural relationships in place within our membership across: Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Scotland, and Spain.
In the next issue of this series, we will break down the relationships happening in Israel, France, England, Sweden and Wales.
What is a “Structural Relationship”?
Establishing a structured and constructive relationship between all football stakeholders is a key activity of SD Europe and its affiliated members. A productive, respected, and inclusive relationship between a football association and a fan organisation is the establishment of a “Structural Relationship”. Through the natural formation of interchangeable relationships at local and national levels, a direct line of dialogue and debate between the fanbase and the sporting and administrative structures are now valued. This relationship attempts to solve the many problems the football sector faces.
What impact can be expected of a “structural relationship”?
Structural relationships can be based on formal joint project agreements or via fan representation on various committees. SD Europe, supports its members in their efforts to achieve this type of participation and encourages UEFA’s national associations, leagues, and clubs to engage in meaningful relationships with supporters. Without these relationships, grassroots football will never progress across Europe.
How can the fans’ opinion help football institutions?
Supporters are not passive customers, nor a homogenous jumping and cheering bunch. They are the most important stakeholders and the backbone of European football and most of them are well-respected individuals in their professional and personal environments. Supporters have their own networks and ways of communicating best practices and responses to challenges and come up with joint initiatives to improve and protect.
From the dissemination of good governance practices, active involvement of supporters, implementation of common projects to improve the matchday experience, and the relationships between clubs and fans to improve the safety and atmosphere of games; the fans point of view can give positive input that helps solve problems, often requiring the involvement of all parties. Furthermore, the fans can benefit from this cooperation with the stakeholders, acquiring new knowledge, and developing a process of accountability needed to allow cultural growth to support good practice in football.
What stakeholders are involved in a “structural relationship”?
Football Governing Bodies
Local and national state administration, police, and safety authorities
Education and cultural organisations
Social, charity, and civil organisations
Companies in the sector (TV rights holders, sponsors, kit manufacturers)
What are some of the possible outcomes of a “structural relationship”?
Possible developments of a joint cooperation are:
1) A permanent place at the table with all stakeholders seeking a proactive and constructive approach.
2) Participation in the decision-making process of football governing bodies.
3) Raise awareness for all involved empowering fan accountability and communication.
4) Dissemination of good practices that benefit everyone involved.
A common theme…
Despite the social and cultural differences of our various members and their football associations, there is a common theme united across the SD Europe network. Over the years, fans have become organised, nationally coordinated groups, responsibly involved in structuring relationships with the national federations. The goals are to focus on spreading good practices, speak on behalf of the fans, and promoting the social value of football. The different relationships discussed below will provide insight into the development between national supporters organisations and football governing bodies from within our network.
Founded in 2013, the Irish Supporters Network (ISN) brings together the growing number of member-run clubs, supporters’ trusts, and fan organisations in the Republic of Ireland. Two of its main objectives are to promote fan ownership in Irish football and to give guidance and support to anyone seeking it. The ISN serves a dual purpose: It supports cooperative football clubs such as Cork City FC, Finn Harps, Galway United and Cobh Ramblers, as well as supporters groups that are (or are trying to be) proactively involved within their football club.
In 2012, the ISN started activities informally based on the common need of proactive fan inclusion. Since then. the group has played an important role in gathering feedback from local supporters and carrying out surveys, creating an active participation over time able to demand the attention of the larger institutions. This demand finally brought about the important step of supporters being formally involved in a League of Ireland strategy meeting for the very first time.
The ISN reiterated the importance of supporters to the League of Ireland, and also stressed the need to be heard within clubs and at national level.
This past summer after much dialogue with the Irish FA, the ISN now has a seat in an expanded FAI Council following their recommendations to involve supporters that emerged in the report of The Governance Review Group, a joint partnership agreed between the Football Association of Ireland and Sport Ireland. The partnership saw the urge to improve governance at the national body for football in Ireland, two new “Council” seats were assigned for supporters, and a supporter forum was established.
The hard work of the Irish Supporters Network has shown great results. With this “structural relationship” in place, Irish fans can affect the future of their clubs and bring the demands of the fans to the attention of all stakeholders.
Supporters in Campo (SinC) is a not-for-profit association, drawing its membership from voluntary grassroots supporters’ groups representing fan-owned clubs, minority shareholders, and supporters of football clubs across Italy. Its members have been active in the field of good governance in sport since 2009, and the decision to establish SinC was taken collectively in March 2013.
SinC shares its knowledge and best practice, with the aim of achieving greater levels of democratically run, grassroots ownership of Italian football clubs. SinC also promotes good governance at all levels of Italian sport, and increased dialogue between key stakeholders. Its member groups work at local and regional level, whilst SinC acts as an umbrella organisation, with responsibility to liaise with the national and European levels.
On the national level, SinC represents its members in discussions with: the Italian football association (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio – FIGC), football league organisations (Lega Serie A, Lega Serie B, Lega Pro, Lega Nazionale Dilettanti), Olympic Committee (Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano), national government (Governo Italiano), and the country’s political parties. This dialogue, advances the agendas of members at the national level, whilst also contributing to current debates on the promotion of good governance in Italian sport.
Since September 2013, SinC has had joint projects with Lega Serie B and Lega Pro, both with the aim of promoting dialogue and structured relationships between key stakeholders in Italian football. This project is particularly focused on the development of the Supporter Liaison Officer project in Italy, and has been developed with the help of SD Europe.
Many SinC members have developed a methodology in selecting and engaging SLO’s at local level, establishing a closer relationship with the supporters’ trust and its members’ activity.
Supporterscollectief Netherlands is a national supporters organisation that represents supporter clubs in Holland. 24 fan groups from across the country started to unofficially work together in 2014, and in 2015, they founded Supporterscollectief. The supporter groups finally had the platform to organise collectively and unite on common issues relating to the clubs and football governing bodies.
The organisation developed a constructive relationship with the Dutch FA, Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbal Bond (KNVB). By discussing issues surrounding the matchday experience, the developing role of a SLO, and bringing the perspective of the fans on topics such as kick-off times and ticket prices, Supporterscollectief and the KNVB understand the value of this relationship.
They are also part of the ‘’Expert group working on safe and pleasurable football 2020’’, a program launched by the Dutch government to increase safety in stadiums, improve stadium accessibility, and ensure the basic freedom for supporters.
Supporters Direct Scotland is the national organisation coordinating the activities of fan-owned clubs, minority shareholders, and supporters of football clubs throughout Scotland. SD Scotland currently has representation at 32 clubs. Of these, 6 have majority ownership of their club, and a further 16 have a form of representation within the governance of their club.
Active in Scotland since 2002, Supporters Direct Scotland incorporated locally in 2017, becoming its own legal entity. , with the goal of ‘promoting sustainable spectator sports clubs based on supporters’ involvement and community ownership’.
SD Scotland is the representative body of supporters to the Scottish FA. Bringing the fans’ views of governance, accessibility, social responsibility, and safety, SD Scotland promote fan involvement at all levels of the football pyramids to the relevant stakeholders.
SD Scotland have been responsible for implementing numerous projects across the country. The first initiative to mention is the ‘Scottish Supporters Network’, is a network specifically developed, as part of a partnership with the Scottish FA and SPFL, to capture the views of Scottish football fans and help influence key decision-making through the formal governance structure of the Scottish game.
SDS also are involved in social initiatives such as Colours of our Scarves, an equality programme that tackles inequality in Scottish sport by promoting inclusive, diversity, and celebration of differences. Though it was formerly part of Supporters Direct Scotland, it is now part of the Fair Play Foundation.
SDS are also involved in club and members training with the Club Development Scotland, who are a division within SDS, leading the initiatives. Finally, SDS support the development of the Supporter Liaison Officers, in partnership with the Scottish FA.
Federación de Accionistas y Socios del Fútbol Español (FASFE), was founded in 2008 and is a not-for-profit national organisation representing fan-owned clubs, democratically organised minority shareholders, and supporters of football clubs throughout Spain. FASFE is a fully democratic, independent organisation, which aims to help supporters have a key role in the decision-making process at their clubs, and governing bodies.
The FASFE activities have involved different aspects of the relationship between supporters and institutions. They have conducted awareness campaigns on the reform of Spanish football, supported local fan groups in troubled times, and been a big advocate of shared solutions and dialogue. FASFE’s work has developed the relationship between clubs, football leagues, and other institutions allowing for dialogue on issues of governance, accessibility, social responsibility, and safety.
During the time of the joint Erasmus + project ‘Clubs and Supporters for Better Governance in Football’, FASFE put together a strategy, with the help of experts and local associations, reforming certain football infrastructure. After nearly two years, they produced key points of insight to improve club governance. Now, the organisation is finalising a shared proposal to be submitted to various institutions.
FASFE has been proposing substantial changes to the rules for clubs under the Sociedad Anónima Deportiva (SAD) model. Fans are working together to shape a new democratic model, with the goal of protecting club heritage and bringing fans back to the center of the game.
Through proposals, protests, and much hard work, FAFSE’s network has expanded to gain a recognised role within Spanish football. The group is now part of the General Assembly of the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF), or the Spanish Football Association.
In May 2019, the national football federation decided to restructure itself, allowing 18, qualified stakeholders to be more involved and heard. FASFE can continue to engage in a positive dialogue with all relevant stakeholders in Spanish football, bringing the fans’ voice to the decision-makers.
Why does this matter?
The importance of a structural relationship cannot be misunderstood. Without these relationships, SD Europe’s members, could not have been able to implement and achieve this much.
Furthermore, football stakeholders, FA’s, and other institutions are providing funding to many social and grassroots causes throughout Europe, without the constructive dialogue – national fan organisations, clubs, supporters, and football as a whole would be in a very different place.